Modernism and Cliques.

I’m always on the lookout for people who write about literature sensibly, using their own judgment but not attacking received wisdom just to be different, and taking useful insights from various theoretical approaches without tying themselves to any particular one. I’ve found another such in Leonid Livak, a professor of Russian literature at the University of Toronto whose How It Was Done In Paris: Russian Emigre Literature & French Modernism made me rethink everything I thought I knew about the subject (and ends with a tour de force comparison of Nabokov’s Dar [The Gift] to Gide’s Les Faux-monnayeurs [The Counterfeiters] that made me wonder why Gide is not even mentioned in the Garland Companion to Nabokov or Boyd’s biography). I’m now reading his chapter “Russian Modernism and the Novel” from A History of the Modernist Novel, and I thought I’d share this passage, which demonstrates why it’s not a good idea to insist sternly on ignoring all extratextual factors when talking about literature:

Students of Russian modernism find themselves in a bind. Striving to overcome Soviet bias, they rely on the resonance of texts in their interpretive communities; but by doing so they internalize the factional fault lines of contemporary artistic life, uncritically elevating them to the status of classification standards. Do modernist accolades to [Sologub’s] The Petty Demon reflect its qualitative superiority to the vilified [Artsybashev’s] Sanin and [Verbitskaya’s] Keys to Happiness, or Sologub’s privileged place in the literary field? An argument could be made that Sologub’s dramatization of modernist philosophical commonplaces is as vulgarizing as Artsybashev’s: witness their concurrent marketplace success, echoed by Verbitskaia’s bestseller, subtitled “a modern novel” and equipped with not one but two epigraphs from Nietzsche. Factionalism is as germane to modernism as ideological bias to Marxism. Both shape the classification of texts. Take Mikhail Kuzmin’s Wings (1906), a novel that, today, flanks The Petty Demon by virtue of expressing the “new sensibility” through an aesthetic and philosophical apologia of sexual deviance more daring than in Gide’s The Immoralist (1902). Gide’s elliptical linkage of pederasty to a hero’s spiritual renascence bursts into the open in Wings, which frames a young man’s homosexual epiphany as an initiation into modernist values. We understand why a Marxist would treat Sanin, The Petty Demon, and Wings as homologous texts; but it takes the knowledge of Kuzmin’s place in a rival clique to explain why Belyi tossed Wings in the same trash bin with Andreev and Artsybashev, while citing The Petty Demon as a counterexample.

Incidentally, Livak studied with Omry Ronen (see this post), lucky fellow.

Addendum. In this comment, John Cowan began a very interesting side discussion about “the use of lie to mean any untruth, whether or not said by someone who knows they are speaking an untruth and intends to do so.” I adduced the Russian verbs врать and лгать, saying “The former is venial and runs the gamut from ‘lie (harmlessly)’ to ‘bullshit’ to ‘talk nonsense,’ whereas лжёт is ‘He lies, and he knows he lies’; Anatoly responded that “врать covers a much wider spectrum than лгать, but the way I see it, the worst of врать is semantically equivalent to лгать, and in particular врать can certainly mean ‘lies and knows that he lies’.” He has now canvassed his readers on the topic, and those who read Russian will find it a useful thread. Summary: they’re about evenly split between those who see the difference as semantic (with лгать being more serious) and those who see it as one of level (with лгать being more highfalutin’).

Comments

  1. Yes, sure, it is possible that the factional “fault lines” from the early Silver Age have mutated into an aesthetic orthodoxy. It happens all the time. The Brahms vs. Wagner controversy is still raging.

    “Do modernist accolades to [Sologub’s] The Petty Demon reflect its qualitative superiority to the vilified [Artsybashev’s] Sanin and [Verbitskaya’s] Keys to Happiness, or Sologub’s privileged place in the literary field?”

    Accolades to The Petty Demon came from all camps: even Gorky called it a helpful book. Somewhat like Richard Strauss’ Salome and Elektra, The Petty Demon is at the end of an old tradition and the beginning of a new one: some people read it as critical near-realism with Gogolean grotesques, others as something completely new – looking back from 2015, it seems like the first Great Modernist Novel in the Russian language. There was a consensus around 1910 that The Petty Demon is the work of a master: a pervert, a sadist, some said, but in the manner of Dostoevsky and Huysmans.

    “An argument could be made that Sologub’s dramatization of modernist philosophical commonplaces is as vulgarizing as Artsybashev’s… We understand why a Marxist would treat Sanin, The Petty Demon, and Wings as homologous texts…”

    A vulgar Marxist, blind to the significance of structure, imagery, and style. But even a vulgar Marxist would notice the class tension in Sologub’s novel. It owed some of its popularity to being all things to all people: it can be read as a work of social criticism, as a study of mental illness, as a surrealist joke, as an extended insight into human sexuality… you name it.

    “…it takes the knowledge of Kuzmin’s place in a rival clique to explain why Belyi tossed Wings in the same trash bin with Andreev and Artsybashev, while citing The Petty Demon as a counterexample.”

    It probably explains why Bely rejected Kuzmin’s novelette but not why he contrasted it against The Petty Demon. Sologub’s poetry was a formative influence on Bely. It had nothing to do with literary cliques: it just happened.

    More generally, Sologub’s reputation as a major poet may have boosted the status of The Petty Demon among the educated public before the book’s merits were fully appreciated on their own (which often takes years or decades). Praising Sologub in 1924, Mandelshtam claimed that for his generation, Sologub had been a legend for twenty years: by 1907, when The Petty Demon was published as a separate book, six collections of his verse had been printed. In contrast, Kuzmin only published his first book of verse after Wings, which was not his best prose work anyway.

  2. “Blake says that ‘Real Poets’ have no competition: the primary impression that the real poet makes on the reader is not that of comparative greatness, but of positive goodness or genuineness. And this sense of genuineness is the unity of the positive impressions we receive. We are back at Blake’s doctrine that ‘Every Poem must necessarily be a perfect Unity’ with which we began. When we try to express the ‘quality’ of a poem we usually refer to one of its attributes. Blake teaches us that a poem’s quality is its whatness, the unified pattern of its words and images.” —Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry

  3. “How It Was Done in Paris” – obviously riffing on Babel’s “How It Was Done in Odessa” – but failing to see the connection. Any pointers?

  4. The book’s epigraph is from the Babel story:

    Есть люди, умеющие пить водку, и есть люди, не умеющие пить водку, но все же пьющие ее. И вот первые получают удовольствие от горя и от радости, а вторые страдают за всех тех, кто пьет водку, не умея пить ее.

    [There are people who know how to drink vodka, and there are those who do not know how to drink vodka but who drink it all the same. And so the former take pleasure in misery and in joy, while the latter suffer for all those who drink vodka without knowing how to drink it.]

    He alludes to the quote a couple times in the course of the book but never spells out the connection; I take it as typically Russian enjoyment of bringing in invisible links. For instance, the acknowledgments section ends with “Быть ли мне вкрадчиво-нежным? Быть ли мне пленительно-грубым?,” which he doesn’t bother to explain is from Erofeev’s Москва-Петушки — if you need to know, you know.

  5. >if you need to know, you know

    @LH, I’m curious about this phrase – Ive only heard it in Hebrew – v’Hameiveen Yaveen (derives from Rabbinic Midrash, I believe. Foundational concept in esoteric knowledge circles). I’ve never heard it in other languages.

  6. e-k: The Algerian Arabic equivalent, very commonly used after saying something pointedly elliptical or oblique, is “əlfahəm yəfhəm”, “the understander will understand”.

  7. Googling for it in English turns up few hits, mostly from occultists, but the expression need to know is clearly derived from some saying of this type.

    From the WP article on compartmentalization: “An example of compartmentalization was the Manhattan Project. Personnel at Oak Ridge constructed and operated centrifuges to isolate Uranium-235 from naturally occurring uranium, but most did not know what, exactly, they were doing. Those that did know, did not know why they were doing it. Parts of the weapon were separately designed by teams who did not know how the parts interacted.”

    According to Feynman, Oak Ridge did not know what it needed to know, and as a result there was a design fault in the plant that Los Alamos feared might produce a nuclear explosion. Oppenheimer sent Feynman there to say “In my opinion it is impossible for them to obey a bunch of rules unless they understand how it works. So it’s my opinion that it’s only going to work if I tell them, and Los Alamos cannot accept the responsibility for the safety of the Oak Ridge plant unless they are fully informed as to how it works!” Amazingly, the Army bought it, and the folks at Oak Ridge began massively redesigning their process based on what they now knew.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    I think that the phrase about knowing or understanding corresponds to French à bon entendeur, salut!

  9. The Hebrew and the Algerian Arabic look pretty identical in meaning. The meaning there is not quite “if you need to know…”, but rather “if you are perceptive…”

  10. >The meaning there is not quite “if you need to know…”, but rather “if you are perceptive…”

    @Y,
    I am not sure I agree with you. I always thought that the origin of the Hebrew expression comes from the esoteric Rabbinic tradition where secret knowledge is transmitted to the initiated disciples by their masters at the right time and in the right way. In my understanding, it would be the opposite of “if you are perceptive”, or at least as the adjective is commonly used, because the point is – there is a world of secret meaning which cannot be decoded without the instruction of the “guru”. You cannot “perceive” the mystery on your own, or if you do, you’re likely to dangerously misinterpret.

    I cannot speak for the Arabic expression…

  11. Philologos (in The Forward, in English) quotes two 12th century sources, Abraham ben David (The Ra’abad) using hamevin yavin in the sense of ‘ ’nuff said, think about it’, and David Kimchi (The Radak) in the sense of ‘you’ll only understand it if you’re qualified.’ Philologos then tries to link it with Matthew 19:12 [!].

    Commenters in Stack Exchange doubt the NT connection, and point out earlier sources, foremost Ibn Ezra. The synonymous המשכיל יבין hamaskil yavin apparently goes back to the Geonim. I haven’t looked for actual quotes to see what meanings they use.

  12. @Y,

    Cool – I will definitely check it out! I think Ibn Ezra said something like “yesh sod v’ha-maskil yidom” (it’s secret and those who are enlightened will be silent)

  13. @Lameen It’s exactly the same in Greek: «ο νοών νοείτω» (meaning “let the one who understands understand”). It’s included in the original text of the New Testament and still in everyday use.

  14. It also reminds me of ‘If any man have ears to hear, let him hear,’ which is all over the NT.

  15. George Gibbard says:

    In Nobiin (Lepsius 1880): Mark 4:9

    Wīd(-a) īg-a-tiǵ-ǵ-on:
    turn-adjunctive say-adjunctive-give-pl.object-3sg.past
    And (‘turning’) he said unto them,

    Nai ukki-g kun-ī
    who ear-accusative have-3sg.pres.wh.interrogative
    He that hath ears

    ukkē-nan-gā,
    hear-3pl-accusative
    to hear,

    ukkir-e-i-on.
    hear-imperative.sg-say-3sg.past
    let him hear.

    In which it will be noted that: the verb ‘give’ is used with the adjunctive (which is generally a verbal adverb, like the Russian деепричастие) as an applicative marker ‘to/for’; in the first clause we have a wh-interrogative verb form (vs. affirmative kunin and polar interrogative kuninā), even though the meaning is a free relative and not a wh-question per se; and, the 3pl of the present can be used as an infinitive and controlled by a different subject agreement category (here 3sg).

  16. George Gibbard says:

    And in Moro (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moro_language):

    eða g-ert̪-o n-ënəñia
    person 3sg-have-perfective pl-ear
    a person having ears

    t̪a aŋə-li-ye-n-e,
    that 3sg.subjunctive-3pl.obj-with-hear-subjunctive
    to hear with them

    ŋgit̪-ə-ma aŋə-n-e
    let-imperative-3sg.obj 3sg.subjunctive-hear-subjunctive
    let him hear

    note incorporated ‘with’ (-ye-) in ‘to hear with them’.

  17. Luhmann not infrequently uses the construction “Man kann wissen, daß [X]” as a mild, indirect reproof to scholars who he feels have not studied X as thoroughly as he has.

    If you need to know [= are serious about your subject], you would know [by now].

  18. Back in 2010 I wrote here:

    Do you like that expression “one can know that …” ? It sounds so irreproachably condescending in German [man kann wissen, daß …]. Luhmann uses it from time to time when he wants to hint that the adepts of some discipline are culpably underread, and thus ignrent. It is absolutely amazing how much stuff he read.

  19. One of the “specially named Bibles”, English Bible editions that are named after typos or other peculiarities, is the Ears Bible, in which the phrase is printed “He who hath ears to ear, let him hear”. Similarly, we have the 1631 Wicked Bible, with “Thou shalt commit adultery”, and an early 17C edition, the Fool Bible, tells us “The fool has said in his heart there is a God” rather than the converse. Both of these involved the printers in heavy fines; the latter were used to buy the first Greek and Hebrew fonts for OUP.

    In 1562 the printers anticipated The Life of Brian by printing “Blessed are the placemakers”, rather than the peacemakers; the word is not in the OED, but perhaps would be taken to refer to people who arranged for others to have “places”, or sinecures, under the governments of the day. In an edition of 1805, the editor’s instruction “to remain” (meaning not to make a change suggested by the proofreader, in this case removing a comma; the modern equivalent is “stet”) unfortunately leaked into the text. Then there is the woman in a 1638 edition, the Forgotten Bible, whose sins are forgotten rather than forgiven. One begins to think that the 1702 edition that makes David complain that printers, instead of princes, have persecuted him without cause actually had the right idea.

    Stu, do you actually say “ignrent” when speaking Texan? I make it “ignernt”. For people who don’t understand Southern, this is not a synonym of “ignorant”: it means lacking in manners, taste, or sophistication, and implies that the people so described are ignorant of these things because their mamas failed to teach them.

  20. The Russian equivalent is некультурный, ‘uncultured’; this used to be a devastating blow which, artfully employed, could get Soviet functionaries to bend some ridiculous and perhaps invented rule and let you do what you had been doing or wanted to do. I doubt it is still effective in today’s Russia.

  21. >The Russian equivalent is некультурный, ‘uncultured’

    My grandmother called me “безкультурный”, although as a kid I wasn’t too devastated by it 🙂 – not sure which usage is more common these days…

  22. John: Stu, do you actually say “ignrent” when speaking Texan? I make it “ignernt”

    As far as I remember, I used “ignrent” in my first experiments here with that conceit, then later moved on to “ignernt”. I suspect that “ignrent” is closest to what I used to say, if I used to say it. “Ignernt” is genuine down-market.

  23. My Tar Heel wife pronounces it in full, but distinguishes it from ignorant by the exceptionally strong stress on the first syllable: IGnorant, as in “That’s so IGnorant of him!” in response to an act of conspicuous rudeness. Among her other semantic peculiarities is the use of lie to mean any untruth, whether or not said by someone who knows they are speaking an untruth and intends to do so. Sam: Johnson also used the word this way, and rendered the more ordinary sense of lie as “He lies, and he knows he lies.”

  24. the use of lie to mean any untruth, whether or not said by someone who knows they are speaking an untruth and intends to do so

    The word “lügen” is used in this way by *very* many everyday Germans: “Du lügst !” can just mean “that’s not true !”. After all this time, it still gets my goat. “Lügen” SHOULD mean “He lies, and he knows he lies”. Sigh …

  25. Educated Germans use “lügen” to mean “knowingly say an untruth”. This is a fact, not part of a definition of who qualifies as “educated”. I am here using “educated” in one of its usual, vague senses.

  26. In Russian there are two verbs, врать (вру, врёшь) and лгать (лгу, лжёшь). The former is venial and runs the gamut from ‘lie (harmlessly)’ to ‘bullshit’ to ‘talk nonsense,’ whereas лжёт is “He lies, and he knows he lies”; врёшь is ‘you’re shitting me,’ while лжёшь is fightin’ words.

  27. >In Russian there are two verbs
    Also, there’s БРЕХАТЬ. Actually I read a very funny article about Nadia Savchenko, the Ukrainian pilot imprisoned by Russia. She is speaking Ukrainian on principle, though I would bet any amount of money that she can speak Russian (she was born in Kiev in 1981). So they have a court interpreter. Which in itself is not that funny – I speak Russian natively but would have a hard time understanding pure Ukrainian. But in this instance he is translating a word that is the same in Russian and Ukrainian.

    «Я это не признаю. Все, что тут написано, брехня», — отреагировала Савченко. «Вранье», — перевел переводчик.

    [ from https://meduza.io/feature/2015/09/22/polnyy-spisok-obvineniy%5D

  28. David Marjanović says:

    The word “lügen” is used in this way by *very* many everyday Germans:

    Huh. Interesting.

  29. I used to think that Nadiya Savchenko was a native Russian speaker who was exposed to Ukrainian from early years and studied it at school, but then I heard her mother speak: she’s obviously a native Ukrainian speaker so her daughters must be either native speakers or natively bilingual.

    The two Russian words, the colloquial вранье and the folksy брехня, would merge into брехня in Ukrainian. Conversely, it means the Ukrainian брехня can be translated both as вранье and брехня. The right word choice depends on the context and the intonation.

  30. I just found this very pertinent dialogue in Turgenev’s story Певцы:

    — Яшка петь будет? — с живостью проговорил человек, прозванный Моргачом. — И ты не врешь, Обалдуй?
    — Я не вру, — с достоинством отвечал Обалдуй, — а ты брешешь.

  31. George Gibbard says:

    For those like me who didn’t know, it’s stessed бре́шешь, the infinitive is бреха́ть, and its meanings are 1) (of a dog) to bark; 2) to lie; 3) “говорить вздор, болтать” — does this mean ‘make small talk’?
    (courtesy of ru.wiktionary.org)

  32. The word “lügen” is used in this way by *very* many everyday Germans

    Well, it’s the same for Japanese, where incredulity is regularly shown by saying うそ!uso! “a lie!”, or more gently うそでしょう!uso deshō! “surely it’s a lie!” They are not accusing you of being a liar; merely saying that they are incredulous. Somewhat similar to “You’re kidding!” or “You’re joking!”

    田中さんは先週会社を辞めました。

    うそ!

    Mr Tanaka quit the company last week.

    A lie! (that is, you’re kidding!)

  33. From diary of Stanislaw Nemojewski, 1606-1608:

    Cамому государю говорятъ бояре:
    – Великiй князь, царь, государь всея Руси, ты солгалъ.-
    Но теперь имъ воспретилъ Димитрiй, чтобы такъ ему не говорили, стыдясь нашихъ. Очень тяжелъ былъ для нихъ этотъ запретъ, и они спрашивали его:
    – Ну, какъ же говорить къ тебе, государь, царь, великiй князь всея Руси, когда ты солжешь?
    Обещалъ было имъ, что лгать не будетъ, а потому и имъ не нужно будет так говорить. Но мне кажется, что слова своего предъ ними он не додержалъ…

    Even the boyars say to the sovereign himself:
    – Grand duke, czar, sovereign of all the Russias, you have lied.-
    But now Demetrius forbid them to say such things, being ashamed of us [Poles]. This prohibition was hard on them and they asked him:
    – But what shall we say to you, sovereign, czar and grand duke of all the Russias, if you have lied?
    He promised to them that he will not lie, so they won’t need to say such thing. But it seems to me, he didn’t keep his word…

  34. “говорить вздор, болтать” — does this mean ‘make small talk’?

    Well, more ‘shoot the shit, talk a lot of nonsense’; Russians don’t really make small talk. (Just this morning I was reading about a Russian woman complaining that English people never said anything interesting because they were so terrified of offending each other, but I can’t remember where — on someone’s Facebook page?)

  35. In Russian there are two verbs, врать (вру, врёшь) and лгать (лгу, лжёшь). The former is venial and runs the gamut from ‘lie (harmlessly)’ to ‘bullshit’ to ‘talk nonsense,’ whereas лжёт is “He lies, and he knows he lies”; врёшь is ‘you’re shitting me,’ while лжёшь is fightin’ words.

    My impression is that in contemporary colloquial Russian, врать more and more has taken over the meaning of лгать and is replacing it, while the perfective солгать is alive and well, leading to a new suppletive aspect pair врать / солгать, comparable to говорить / сказать, брать / взять. Maybe the native Russian speakers here at the Hattery can say whether this impression is correct.

  36. Great heavens, that certainly would be a change. So if that’s true, what do they use in the old, less offensive sense instead of врать?

  37. OK, I asked Anatoly and he disagrees with both of us:

    I agree that врать covers a much wider spectrum than лгать, but the way I see it, the worst of врать is semantically equivalent to лгать, and in particular врать can certainly mean “lies and knows that he lies”. A vehement accusation “Ты врешь!” thrown in someone’s face is exactly identical to “Ты лжешь!”, and is more likely to happen in colloquial speech. Compare with “Вы врете!” vs. “Вы лжете!” where, again, the meaning is exactly the same, but the latter is more likely to occur in real speech because of the formal register. Compare again with “вы врете!” vs “вы лжете!” (plural, addressed to several people or a crowd), where there’s no formal register, and again I would expect врете to happen more often in real speech.

    So my guess is: “врать” tends to be colloquial and informal, лгать tends to be literary and formal, but there’s a substantial overlap in the middle where
    they’re more or less interchangeable and both mean “to lie”. Because врать is the colloquial one, it also carries the variously diluted meanings, which
    extend all the way to “talk nonsense”. When a thermometer shows the wrong temperature, it врет rather than лжет. Someone can приврать/привирать,
    but there’s nothing like *прилгать.

    However, be careful not to overestimate this dilution: some of the more diluted uses seem to be archaic. “врешь” in the sense “you’re wrong” or “you talk nonsense” sounds very 19C to me, and don’t really happen in modern Russian in my experience, with the exception of idioms like “врешь, не возьмешь!” E.g. this from Pushkin’s Дубровский:

    – Ваше превосходительство, коли есть какие-нибудь документы, или…
    – Врешь братец, какие тебе документы. На то указы. В том-то и сила, чтобы безо всякого права отнять имение.

    sounds wrong to me from the perspective of modern Russian.

    As to the aspect issue, and pairing of врать/солгать by aspect claimed in the comment, I don’t see that at all. соврать is a perfectly good counterpart to врать, and as far as I can see врать/соврать and лгать/солгать are paired naturally with no surprises there.

    As I told Anatoly, I’m not at all surprised I got the distinction wrong, especially since I’ve spent so much time immersed in the 19th century (in fact, I read Дубровский just recently).

  38. “Someone can приврать/привирать, but there’s nothing like *прилгать.”

    Come on. Take down that asterisk.

  39. Mea culpa, Alexei. Thanks for correcting me. Still, прилгать is marginal in use compared to приврать, e.g. 50 vs 1 uses on ruscorpora.ru, and all the instances of прилгать/прилгал/прилгала are 19C.

  40. Thanks to Anatoly for the clarification – so, in a nutshell, my impression that врать is used with the same meaning as лгать in the colloquial language seems to be correct, but the impression that it starts to form an aspect pair with солгать seems to be wrong.

  41. Anatoly, I agree that прилгать and прилгнуть have become rare if not yet extinct from spoken Russian. I’ve located a few 20th-century examples but they are all literary. There are plenty of colloquial synonyms available to a native speaker.

  42. A vehement accusation “Ты врешь!” thrown in someone’s face

    So this means that the T of insult is still functioning in Russian, that people can switch from normal V to T quickly when they lose their tempers? In French and German, as we’ve been told here at the Hattery, this is no longer true: the person who does that is so over the top that they have lost the argument already.

  43. John, no, I didn’t mean to imply that; I was thinking of “Ты врешь!” said to someone one is already on a T-basis with. People can suddenly move from V to T when they lose their temper, but to my mind, this would either work as a form of status play (asserting dominance in an unequal relationship where T from a superior was always possible) or as a low-status marker (I’m a lower-class person who’s used to T-ing everybody, and it takes effort to maintain a polite V, so when I lose my temper I regress to the usual T).

    V->T always carries social significance and requires some kind of explanation. Just being in the heat of an argument is not enough of an explanation in polite society; it reflects poorly on the T-er.

    (as a disclaimer, I’ve lived away from Russia for the last 25 years)

  44. In English, of course, there is a decided asymmetry between claims of truth and not-the-truth; you can agree with someone by saying “Right” or “True”, but saying “Wrong” or “Not true” without hedging carries more than a hint of “You lie”. Violence has broken out in NYC stores where the clerk, asked if the store carried such-and-such an item, responded simply “No” (rather than “I’m afraid we don’t”), which was heard as “We don’t sell to [your kind]”.

  45. From the Guy Deutscher article [ http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html ]

    [S]ome languages, like Matses in Peru, oblige their speakers, like the finickiest of lawyers, to specify exactly how they came to know about the facts they are reporting. You cannot simply say, as in English, “An animal passed here.” You have to specify, using a different verbal form, whether this was directly experienced (you saw the animal passing), inferred (you saw footprints), conjectured (animals generally pass there that time of day), hearsay or such. If a statement is reported with the incorrect “evidentiality,” it is considered a lie. So if, for instance, you ask a Matses man how many wives he has, unless he can actually see his wives at that very moment, he would have to answer in the past tense and would say something like “There were two last time I checked.” After all, given that the wives are not present, he cannot be absolutely certain that one of them hasn’t died or run off with another man since he last saw them, even if this was only five minutes ago. So he cannot report it as a certain fact in the present tense.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    This exists in some North American languages too, whether as obligatory or optional markers.

  47. In Lojban there are 13 optional evidentials, which may be glossed thus: ‘I conclude by reasoning, I define, I expect, I experience, I remember, I generalize from particulars, I particularize from generalities, I hear (or hear it said), I know a cultural fact, I know because of an internal experience (dream, e.g.), I observe directly, I hold the opinion, I postulate for the sake of the discussion’. There is also one that explicitly declines to give evidence, which might be glossed ‘I state’. These are short, lightweight words of /CVhV/ form, where /h/ is considered a light consonant, despite their technical-sounding glosses.

    Conversations using evidentials have a rather different flavor than conversations without them, as it is harder to argue (in a certain style) when people are always giving the source of their evidence, if not the evidence itself. If I say ‘I remember’ or ‘I observe’, never mind ‘I heard in a dream’, you can’t sensibly contradict me, you can at most discount me.

  48. What makes Matses special is that every verb is marked for two tenses: when something happened, and when the speaker learned about it.

  49. Any system of evidentials should at its earliest convenience add ‘according to Wikipedia’.

  50. Ha!

  51. V->T always carries social significance and requires some kind of explanation. Just being in the heat of an argument is not enough of an explanation in polite society; it reflects poorly on the T-er.

    How recent is this development? i.e. is the angry switch to T reflecting poorly on the speaker something that is a 20th c egalitarian phenomenon?

  52. What’s clear is that T/V asymmetry on a massive scale survived to 1917 and beyond, becoming itself a minor grievance of the revolutionaries. If it weren’t for the continuing massive influence of literature, Russian might have become a T-only language in the 1920s.

  53. I don’t think so, given the inherent conservatism of the top leaders. They wouldn’t have liked being addressed as T by the rabble any better than they liked proletarian art, theater, and literature.

  54. What determines whether a language becomes T-only (like ?) or V-only (like English)? Is it too big a question?

  55. The modern Scandinavian languages are effectively T-only, because they < V-equality, T-intimacy systems like modern French, German or Russian when V begins to sound hyper-formal, insulting, or sarcastic. V-only < the older asymmetrical T-V systems when T becomes unsafe to use in public, and then gets lost altogether. Spanish voseo < a V-only system when a new hyper-V appears.

  56. Most top-level Bolsheviks, as well as the intelligentsia in general, probably preferred the masses to adopt their way of using Vy, pretty much as the default pronoun. Before 1917, as Russian peasants had been leaving the pre-Petrine rural universe and moving to cities, they started to adopt urban ways, including the use of Vy. Much as these attempts at gentility were ridiculed by Russian fiction writers, urbanization boosted “vykanye.”

  57. As I noted, the use of V for all officers in the Imperial Army and T for all non-officers, mandated by military discipline, was itself a revolutionary grievance, and the Red Army mandated the use of V for all forces.

  58. marie-lucie says:

    During the French colonial regime in Africa, one thing that infuriated many Africans, especially educated ones, was being addressed with “tu” by French people (not all, but it was definitly a racist practice).

  59. The modern Scandinavian languages are effectively T-only, because they < V-equality, T-intimacy systems like modern French, German or Russian when V begins to sound hyper-formal, insulting, or sarcastic. V-only < the older asymmetrical T-V systems when T becomes unsafe to use in public, and then gets lost altogether. Spanish voseo < a V-only system when a new hyper-V appears.

    I think this has words missing? Or at least I could not follow what the less than signs were doing..??

  60. Trond Engen says:

    For some reason I’m reminded of former LH commenter Panu’s contention that Irish lost to English after independence because the new Republican-derived elite engineered a society where an elite education in English and a dash of pretend Irish for formal occasions was what it took to succeed.

  61. I could not follow what the less than signs were doing.

    Substitute “derive from.”

  62. Oh sorry, that is obvious now that you have said it…

    The modern Scandinavian languages are effectively T-only, because they < V-equality, T-intimacy systems like modern French, German or Russian when V begins to sound hyper-formal, insulting, or sarcastic. V-only < the older asymmetrical T-V systems when T becomes unsafe to use in public, and then gets lost altogether.

    I don’t know what you mean by “older”? In what sense was English T/V older than Scandinavian T/V? I’m not sure what you are implying with “asymmetrical” either, all T/V systems are asymmetrical AFAIK.

    I am still not clear on why English lost T while Scandinavian languages lost V — both happen as social equality broadens, but some languages express this one way and some languages express it another.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    fisheyed:
    older : presumably, older than the present time.

    asymmetrical: refers to the asymmetrical (= non-mutual) use of the pronouns, reflecting an unequal relationship: the higher-status person (eg adult, master, police) uses T when addressing the lower-status one (eg child, servant, suspect) but the lower-status person uses V to address the higher-status one. The higher-status person has a choice of which pronoun to use, the lower-status one does not.

  64. I said that AFAIK, all T/V languages have asymmetry — you can tell me I am wrong, you can give examples of T/V languages that never ever had asymmetry, but defining asymmetry seems a little….insulting. “I don’t know what you mean by” also does not mean “I don’t know the definition of”. Processes of losing T and losing V continue to happen in the world, so whatever the answer to my question is, if a generalization can even be made, I’m not sure what older has to do with anything.

  65. David Marjanović says:

    So this means that the T of insult is still functioning in Russian, that people can switch from normal V to T quickly when they lose their tempers? In French and German, as we’ve been told here at the Hattery, this is no longer true: the person who does that is so over the top that they have lost the argument already.

    No, not even. In German, nowadays, using T with an adult stranger is simply ungrammatical. It doesn’t occur to people.

    There might be exceptions where you sarcastically pretend to be the other party’s bestest buddy so you can insult them more intimately: “Buddy, did they shit into your brain?” But that takes more control than most people have when they’re this upset.

    I don’t know what you mean by “older”? In what sense was English T/V older than Scandinavian T/V?

    No, just older than the present V-only system.

    I’m not sure what you are implying with “asymmetrical” either, all T/V systems are asymmetrical AFAIK.

    Yes, in contrast to the V-only system of modern mainstream English.

    So, to finally answer your question on why English lost T: V-only appears to have arisen among the urban/merchant classes who found it safest to treat each other as gentlemen by default when their exact social status was no longer visible from their clothes, while T remained in use among farmers and the very bottom of society. When society stopped having such a bottom, T fell out of use with it and now survives only in a few remote rural dialects, AFAIK.

    In contrast, Scandinavia has attained the classless society by abolishing the distinction between bourgeoisie and proletariat, leaving V to the nobility, which comprises about three people.

  66. David Marjanović says:

    I’m not sure what older has to do with anything.

    It doesn’t. You were just reading between people’s lines where they hadn’t written anything.

  67. Spelling it out:

    A perfectly asymmetrical T-V system probably never existed, at least in Europe: it would be one in which there is always a superiority-inferiority relationship between any two persons, everyone knows exactly what it is, and the superior always uses T whereas the inferior always uses V. In practice these things are never known quite so exactly, and there are effectively peer (symmetrical) relationships where both parties use T-T or V-V. In particular, immediate family remembers use T-T with each other, peasants generally used T-T with other peasants, and nobles generally used V-V with other nobles (even, sometimes, their immediate family members). But broadly we may say that in pre-modern times asymmetry prevailed in the rare conversations between members of different classes.

    Modernity led to two changes: people started to work for wages, which led to more frequent asymmetrical conversations, as workers have to talk with bosses more than peasants with lords. And (as David says) it became impossible for non-peasants to guess reliably whether someone was your superior or your inferior, which led to more V-V conversations for basically prudential motives. Both forces led to the widening of V and its regular use by people who had had little reason to use it before. However, people who were normally V-V tended to become T-V or even T-T in moments of high emotion.

    In a few languages T was lost completely and the language became V-only, sometimes adding a new V later and sometimes not. Normally, however, V-V is the general polite style; T-T is for intimacy and membership in specific subgroups like students; and T-V is for employer/employee, much older/much younger (including adult/child), and a few other special cases, some of which have eroded toward the general V-V. This is the normal stable situation in Europe today.

    The T-only languages arose where more and more T-T subgroups arose or existing ones widened to cover all of society. V lost its general use and came to be seen as clunky, difficult to use, or even insulting. Finally it was dropped altogether except in residual uses.

  68. Just to complicate things, I am reminded of Lameen Souag’s recent post, and I wondr: in T-V languages, what pronoun do you use to address the sun, a cloud, a breeze, a drizzle, or a hurricane? I don’t know any T-V language well enough to have a solid intuition about it.

  69. In Russian, it would be T form:

    Ветер, ветер! Ты могуч,
    Ты гоняешь стаи туч,
    Ты волнуешь сине море,
    Всюду веешь на просторе.
    Не боишься никого,
    Кроме бога одного.
    Аль откажешь мне в ответе?
    Не видал ли где на свете
    Ты царевны молодой?

  70. On врать and лгать, see my Addendum above about Anatoly’s thread.

  71. Interestingly, in Russian, it seems like peasants /servants would address their masters as T, followed by their title, e.g. “Ты, барин…”(you, master)

  72. On Anatoly’s thread is an interesting comment about the word врач(doctor) coming from same origin as врать.

    Seems there’s some support for this proposition http://rus.stackexchange.com/questions/2385/%D0%9A%D0%BE%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%8C-%D1%81%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B0-%D0%B2%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%87

  73. David Marjanović says:

    and T-V is for employer/employee, much older/much younger (including adult/child), and a few other special cases, some of which have eroded toward the general V-V. This is the normal stable situation in Europe today.

    T-V is for adult/child, for generally expanding definitions of “child”. It’s unthinkable for employer/employee, which is always symmetric and almost always V-V (money is serious business, which requires proper distance between serious people).

    in T-V languages, what pronoun do you use to address the sun, a cloud, a breeze, a drizzle, or a hurricane?

    Always T. God, too, is T except in much of French.

  74. marie-lucie says:

    David: It’s unthinkable for employer/employee, which is always symmetric and almost always V-V (money is serious business, which requires proper distance between serious people).

    I agree with the “unthinkable” part, unless for instance the boss was a friend of one’s parents and had known the employee as a child. In France, in a “young” business where boss and employees are all young (eg computer service), they would use T with each other. I agree that reciprocity in the norm, in business as in personal life, apart from very unusual circumstances.

    in T-V languages, what pronoun do you use to address the sun, a cloud, a breeze, a drizzle, or a hurricane?
    – Always T.

    In French too. If you really need to address them.

    God, too, is T except in much of French.

    In France there used to be a difference between Catholics and Protestants in this respect (I don’t know about the other monotheistic religions). Catholics used V, but Protestants used T. When I was a child attending Catholic catechism we learned some prayers and hymns, in which God, Jesus and Mary were always V, except in one case: the hymn Plus près de Toi, mon Dieu which I realized much later was a direct translation of “Nearer, my God, to Thee” and therefore must have been first adopted by French Protestants. I stopped going to church before Vatican II, after which T became the norm. But I would think that many older Catholics needing to address God would feel more comfortable using V.

  75. –Interestingly, in Russian, it seems like peasants /servants would address their masters as T, followed by their title, e.g. “Ты, барин…”(you, master)

    this is probably linked to very strange Russian tradition of addressing parents as T. So landlord is simply treated by peasants as their father in a sense.

    Ukrainians on the other hand use both T and V while addressing parents. (but the latter might be Russian influence)

  76. Yes, I wrote “employer/employee” twice, but only the first mention (for historical circumstances) was correct. I suppose if you have enough money you can get away with addressing your servants (not the employees of your business, the people who clean your house and such) as T in some places, if perhaps not France. (“À la lanterne!”)

  77. @e-k: “Interestingly, in Russian, it seems like peasants /servants would address their masters as T, followed by their title, e.g. “Ты, барин…”(you, master)”

    Specifically, peasants and servants of peasant origin. Once sufficiently urbanized, they would start using Vy in imitation of the upper classes and would eventually expect to be addressed as Vy as well. * The use of Vy in Russian began with Peter I, and Vy took some time to become the norm for the gentry. As I’ve said, the Russian peasantry largely remained in a pre-Petrine world for much longer, until the turn of the 20th century in some places. Linguistically, it was an archaic T-T world. Also, don’t underestimate the linguistic pull of Old Church Slavonic – an exclusively T-T language and a stronger influence on Russian than on Ukrainian (please correct me if I’m wrong on this).

    * Erik McDonald quotes a Leskov character who insists on saying “ty” to her maidservant long after 1861. Interestingly, the lady also chooses to call the servant by a generic name rather than her Christian name, as if adopting an old English custom.

  78. marie-lucie says:

    JC: I suppose if you have enough money you can get away with addressing your servants (not the employees of your business, the people who clean your house and such) as T in some places, if perhaps not France. (“À la lanterne!”)

    In France I don’t think that servants would tolerate such crass behaviour. Even those who might put up with it from (say) a Trump-type boss for the sake of good pay would most certainly resent it and despise their boss for it.

    Reciprocal T would be a different matter. In the 60’s the novelist Françoise Mallet-Joris wrote La maison de papier, a mostly humorous book consisting of short vignettes about life in her rather bohemian household. She mentions a series of Spanish young women she employed as home help, with whom mutual T was the norm.

  79. marie-lucie says:

    SFR: very strange Russian tradition of addressing parents as T

    What is so strange?

    In France, V to parents was the custom in most families for a long time, probably until after WW1. It is still practiced in some families, especially those from the former nobility. A former colleague of mine (aged about 55) comes from such a family. He is married to a non-noble French woman. Their five children use V to him and T to their mother. The custom also persists (although getting obsolete) among some French Canadian families.

  80. What is so strange?

    In France, V to parents was the custom in most families for a long time

    And that’s what SFR is saying would be expected. You don’t seem to disagree.

  81. David Marjanović says:

    V to parents never was a thing in German; the only exception I know of was the Austrian imperial family (and there I don’t know if they perhaps separated public from private usage).

  82. David Marjanović says:

    Martin Luther switched from T to V with his son when the son got a master’s degree.

  83. It used to be in Denmark that schoolchildren V-ed the teacher and got T back. But gymnasium (after 9 years of of lower and middle school) was V-V, as was university of course.

    I entered school in 1966 and probably V-ed my first home room teacher, but after that I had teachers from the hippie generation and it was T-T all the way.

    But it’s not quite dead — lately it has happened a few times that very young people (mid-20’s or younger) have used the V-form with me in a service situation, like taking payment in a shop. That’s how you can tell you’re an old codger.

  84. V to parents never was a thing in German
    It was still a thing at the start of the 20th century ; e.g., I was told that my late grandfather (b. 1907) had to use Sie with his parents. Beyond personal anecdote, one of my old school books with source texts on language history “Deutsche Sprachgeschichte. Für die Sekundärstufe” (Editor Gerhart Wolff, Reclam / Stuttgart 1984) summarizes Grimm’s “Deutsche Grammatik (from 1832) as follows on this matter: Eltern duzen die Kinder, der Sohn ihrzt die Eltern, die Tochter sagt “du” zur Mutter, i.e. “parents use du (=T) with their children, the son uses Ihr (2nd pl., like French vous or Russian Vy, an “intermediate” V pronoun not in use in German any more as a polie pronoun) with the parents, the daughter uses du (=T) with her mother.” He also states that the “common people” don’t use polite pronouns at all among themselves. Another quoted text by a certain Joachim Leithäuser from 1965 states daß KInder ihre Eltern mit “Sie” oder “Ihr” anredeten, ist heute kaum noch Sitte “That parents say Sie or Ihr (=V) to their parents is rarely the custom any more today”, implying tht such a custom existed previously. I assume it was never as far-spread as in France and probably limited to upper and aspiring middle class families, but it seems to have existed.

  85. David Marjanović says:

    Interesting.

  86. marie-lucie says:

    What is so strange? I asked about Russian peasant children using T to their parents: because the peasants were reported as using T to everyone, including to their lords and to the Tsar.

  87. marie-lucie says:

    I just remembered something about older French usage: in Perrault’s 17th century Contes (which includes French versions of Cinderella and other tales well-known in Europe), parents and children use V to each other. At least older children do (eg daughters of marriageable age). In the famous play Le Cid, in which part of the drama is the Romeo-and-Juliet situation created when the hero is compelled by “honour” rules to kill his fiancée’s father in a duel, the lovers say T to each other when they meet after the deed has been done.

    From the 18th C I remember the well-known novel Manon Lescaut in which father and son (members of minor nobility I think) use V to each other, except in a stormy, highly emotional scene between them when the son switches to T while calling his father père barbare et dénaturé! “You barbaric, unnatural father!’

    A colleague of mine who was researching a collection of letters from the same period between an aristocratic woman and her son-in-law once asked my opinion of the significance of the lady habitually using V but occasionally switching to T. She said that other people had interpreted this as showing that the lady was in love with her son-in-law, but she (my colleague) did not share this view, judging from the general content of the letters. I never read those letters, but I suspect that the occasional T occurred in specific circumstances of an emotional character, whatever the nature of the emotion.

  88. That’s how you can tell you’re an old codger.

    For me, it was being called “sir” by strangers. V-V and T-T languages still have ways to express asymmetrical social status!

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